China unlikely to ease crackdown on Shouwang Church

By May 18, 2011

China (MNN) — Making waves on NPR, CNN, BBC and the New York Times, the story of one persecuted house church has struck international chords.

The Shouwang Church in Beijing has been in a battle of rights with China for years, but the struggle has only just come into focus for most. The 1,000-member church was ousted from its building when their landlord was pressured by officials to evict them. For the six weeks following, Shouwang members have been meeting publicly outside.

During the first week of meeting, over 160 members were arrested under the auspices of disturbing the peace. Most arrested were released within a few hours, but the church leaders have been on house arrest since.

Each subsequent outdoor Sunday worship service has resulted in dozens more arrests.

According to Baptist Press, China signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion," including the freedom "in public or private." A group of pastors sent a petition to government officials explaining that China was breaking its own laws.

International news investigations have brought light to the issue across the globe, as well, but Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs says China is likely not going to budge.

"In spite of all of the publicity, in spite of the international outcry, the Chinese government has continued to hold a very firm line: ‘We will not allow this church to meet because they are not registered with the Chinese religious officials,'" explains Nettleton.

Shouwang did attempt to register with China's official Three-Self Patriotic Church, willing to be a recognized church within certain parameters. The church was denied registration–a common happenstance Nettleton says for churches who don't wish to place communism before Christ. (Learn more about why many evangelical churches stay underground in this interview with Bob Fu.)

The struggle is just another leaf in China's persecution book. "That's the same problem we've seen for decades in China. This is just the current chapter. When this chapter is finished, there will be another chapter after it, as long as the communists are in power and as long as they continue to deny religious freedom in China."

At the point in this particular chapter, however, the Chinese government is in the midst of a Catch 22 and likely will not step down from their position. Nettleton says responding to international outcry will appear to be compromise, yet maintaining their position puts a stain on their religious freedom. At this point, Nettleton says, China is more likely to try and "save face" by sticking to their guns. Even international upset is unlikely to make a dent in religious freedom short-term.

The best-case scenario for Shouwang is that the government would grant registration for the church and allow services to go unhindered. The worst-case scenario is filled with uncertainty.

"The worst-case scenario is that we see this continued string of arrests–more and more people arrested, detained, held maybe on administrated detention for 15 days, maybe some will be locked up away for longer periods of time," says Nettleton. "Really, the worst-case scenario is that it just goes on and on indefinitely, without the church getting the rights that they're promised–without any kind of an end in sight."

Pray that this would not be the case.

Amid turmoil, ongoing persecution and blatant obstructions of religious freedom, the church in China continues to grow. Pray that the Lord would use even this scenario to bring more to his Kingdom.

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